Not All Rich Kids Live Like Paris Hilton

“Don’t handicap your children by making their lives easy.”  – Robert Heinlein

Every year, the world adds several billionaires to its population. And while the Suri Cruises, Justin Combs, and Paris Hiltons of the world regularly make tabloid headlines with their $85 million mansions, $360,000 Maybachs, super-yachts, and indoor ski slopes, other members of the 3% use parenting styles that could almost be considered tight-fisted or even austere.

Marilyn Carlson Nelson’s father, Curt, founder of Carlson Travel Group, would drive past her home, call her, and ask, “Are you giving a party?” She said, “No, why?” And he’d say, “So many lights on.”

Warren Buffett’s children grew up in the same house that their father bought in 1958 and rode the school bus to the same public school that their mother attended. Chuck Feeney, co-founder of Duty-Free Shoppers Group, insisted that his kids work while on school vacations. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said of his parenting style: “I’m not the dad that comes home with a ton of presents. I am the dad that says, ‘Pick that up. Take that; put it in the sink. No, you have to earn that.’

Why do these ultra-rich parents provide for their children’s’ basic needs, but no more? Bill Gates summed it up best in his statement: “You’ve got to make sure they have a sense of their own ability and what they’re going to go and do … They need to have a sense that their own work is meaningful and important.”

“Give once and you elicit appreciation;

Give twice and you create anticipation;

Give three times and you create expectation;

Give four times and it becomes entitlement;

Give five times and you establish dependency.”

– Bob Lupton, Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help, And How to Reverse It

Humans Want To Feel Worthy

Imagine for a moment being thirty years old and having someone come up to you and remark, “I see evidence of your mother’s or father’s success all around you … but what have YOU done?”

All human beings – even children – have the urge to create, and we want to feel powerful and in control of our lives. We yearn for the sense of accomplishment and pride that comes when we figure something out on our own. The desire for parents to try and ease their children’s lives is understandable, but if parents always come to the rescue with open pocketbooks, they are sending their children the message: “I don’t trust you to be able to figure out your own life, so I’m going to do it for you”. If they cater to the child’s every whim and shower them with unsolicited presents, it sends the message “I have money. I am powerful. You’re not.” The dynamic is about the parents maintaining their own sense of power and worth at the expense of the power and worth of their children.

If there are no hard knocks to learn from, children don’t have the opportunity to find out how resilient and wise they are. It’s like growing up in a room full of pillows: warm and comfortable, yes, but also stuffy, stale, and boring.

There seem to be two responses to the pillowed room phenomenon. Some children try to distract themselves from their feelings of frustration and worthlessness with pretty toys and baubles. They grow up into adult who spend their lives in a hollow parody of true creation. They buy this and that, or dabble here or there, even in “worthwhile pursuits”, but are never really satisfied.

Or they revolt, plunge themselves into a world full of sharp corners and hot stoves, and are completely flattened by the first thing that doesn’t go their way, because they never learned to deal with disappointment on a small scale. They then react by turning to anything that will temporarily make them feel better — drugs or sex, for instance — and enter into a cycle of reactivity that spirals into addiction and other unhealthy forms of self-soothing that can ultimately become self-destructive.

All parents, wealthy or poor, could take a page from Bill Gates and Warren Buffett’s parenting styles. We need to trust our kids. They’re wiser, more resilient, and far more creative than any of us can imagine.

I leave you now with one of my favorite quotes from the Abraham-Hicks body of wisdom:

“Child of mine, I will never do for you that which I know you can do for yourself. I will never rob you of an opportunity to show yourself your ability and talent. I will see you at all times as the capable, effective, powerful creator that you’ve come forth to be. And I will stand back as your most avid cheerleading section. But I will not do for you that which you have intended to do for yourself. Anything you need from me, ask. I’m always here to compliment or assist. I am here to encourage your growth, not to justify my experience through you.” ~ Abraham / Hicks

May this be an aspiration for us all.

Featured photo credit: The Western Brothers / Rennett Stowe via flickr.com

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